Friday, July 15, 2016

The Next Generation 6x17 "Birthright, Part 2"

rating: ****

the story: Worf discovers a colony where Klingons and Romulans live side-by-side.

similar to: "The Enemy" (Next Generation), "Chimera" (Deep Space Nine)

my thoughts: I have long struggled over this episode, and yet now I am recommending it as a Star Trek classic.  So let me explain...

What used to make me so uncomfortable is how fallible Worf comes off, and how unwinnable a situation he comes across in the strange village housing both his people, the Klingons, and their frenemies the Romulans.  "The Enemy" had already demonstrated the depth of his enmity toward Romulans (refusing to help save the life of one), and later in Deep Space Nine's "Change of Heart," his refusal to see the greater picture (which would have sacrificed Dax in the process), all of this amounts to a unique franchise character, one who doesn't conform to the perfect standards Gene Roddenberry envisioned for the future.  It's not that he's Klingon and therefore absolved from the human vision, but that, as perhaps best depicted in "Birthright, Part 2," he has a hard time overcoming the prejudices and attitudes he has formed over a lifetime, and yes, inherited, too.

Which makes him unique, a continuing character study of everything Star Trek sought to demonstrate as having been overcome in the future.  This doesn't mean Worf, ultimately, is a villain.  Far from it.  His struggles make him, if anything, more heroic.  "Birthright, Part 2," again, is where it all comes together.

Lured on the promise of reuniting with his dead father, Worf instead comes face-to-face with something his people won't overcome, despite Klingons finally having made peace with one implacable foe, the Federation, with Worf himself being the living embodiment of that progress.  That doesn't make confronting his shortcomings any less ugly or uncomfortable to watch.  To him, his actions are all about Klingon pride, but the underpinning is his basic intolerance of Romulans, and his unwillingness to reconsider his views.  He may, with every justification, question Romulan motives (Deep Space Nine did a similar story, "Cardassians," about a war orphan forced to choose where to pledge his loyalties, which itself was similar to Next Generation's own "Suddenly Human"), but that doesn't excuse his disgust as he finds out his lovely Klingon beauty also has Romulan blood in her. 

Again, there's a Deep Space Nine episode ("Chimera") where Odo is forced once and all to decide where he stands on the matter of prejudice against his kind (changelings), and this matter can't be discussed without bringing up Data ("The Measure of a Man") or The Doctor (Voyager's "Latent Image"), but just as with the bigotry even Spock faced ("Balance of Terror," for instance) and Enterprise's xenophobes ("Demons"/"Terra Prime"), this is a matter very much relevant to the real world, and Star Trek's exploration of it, in all its forms (Deep Space Nine's "Far Beyond the Stars"), ultimately tends to let the good guys off.  Not this time.  And this is very, very important, because it acknowledges how unsettling this problem really is.  Because it's not just something that happens to the other guy. 

"Birthright, Part 1" featured Data daydreaming, which was a metaphoric acknowledgement that the android needed to continue growing.  I think "Birthright, Part 2" is about Worf struggling to understand that, too.  Something to think about, anyway.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

notable guest-stars:
Alan Scarfe
Jennifer Gatti
Richard Herd
Cristine Rose
James Cromwell

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